A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #164: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.


My Dostoevsky pro­fes­sor once said that Russians are more Oriental than Occidental in tem­pera­ment, and the con­tem­pla­tive pac­ing and con­stant im­por­tance of the unim­por­tant through­out Tarkovsky’s Solaris seems to sup­port this as­ser­tion fair­ly well. For those used to Stanislaw Lem’s whim­si­cal cy­ber­net­ic sci­ence fic­tion, Solaris is more rem­i­nis­cent of Philip K. Dick, es­pe­cial­ly with its psy­cho­log­i­cal bent and hal­lu­cino­genic at­mos­phere. These par­tic­u­lar as­pects give the work and the film both sig­nif­i­cant stay­ing pow­er; the fic­tion is phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal in­stead of tech­no­log­i­cal. Eastern Europeans and Asiatics al­ways seem to pull off pen­sive mad­ness with much more be­liev­abil­i­ty than less thought­ful cul­tures. So Kris, Kelvin can stag­ger around Solaris Station in naught but his box­ers, eyes in­ward, but when he be­gins to talk about con­science and con­scious­ness and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, his out­ward dis­or­der is mere­ly the sign of a com­plete in­ter­nal fo­cus on more im­por­tant prob­lems.


Kelvin be­comes a re­flec­tion of Solaris Station, an ut­ter ru­in it­self; both ig­no­rant to the means and ef­fects of the Solaris Ocean which they are study­ing. Communication seems to be the theme of this film. Communication with the self as man­i­fest­ed by the ap­pear­ance of Hari, Kelvin’s long-de­ceased wife, the planet’s at­tempt at com­mu­ni­ca­tion by proxy through the man­i­fes­ta­tion of Hari, tête-a-tête com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the sci­en­tists and the sci­en­tists at­tempts to com­mu­ni­cate with the plan­et via ra­di­a­tion. On a meta-lev­el we al­so have Tarkovsky’s at­tempt to com­mu­ni­cate the dif­fi­cul­ties of these process­es to his view­ers. In the end it be­comes eas­i­er to toss the dice and hope that ex­pla­na­tion through evo­ca­tion and im­agery will suf­fice.


Kelvin seems ad­mirably suit­ed to his job as con­sul­tant for the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Solaris project. He is not so much ob­jec­tive as com­plete­ly re­cep­tive and in­stead of sit­ting in in­dif­fer­ence, he ex­plores in ac­cep­tance. Because of this, he be­comes, un­will­ing­ly, the first per­son to suc­cess­ful­ly com­mu­ni­cate with the sen­tient ocean. After this oc­curs, the hal­lu­ci­na­tions cease, but the reap­pear­ance of Hari has ex­humed his old skele­tons, and his is dis­qui­et­ed. At this point, Tarkovsky’s sub­tle mas­tery fi­nal­ly re­veals it­self, the small peace­ful nat­ur­al clues we’ve re­ceived through­out the film, flow­ing wa­ter, sway­ing plants, swirling vis­tas and ob­scu­rant clouds be­come vi­su­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Kelvin’s pri­vate thought process­es, and the Solaris Ocean of­fers him full com­mu­nion with them. A form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that we all on­ly wish for.


Criterion Essay by Philip Lopate.
Andrei Tarkovsky on Solaris.
• Senses of Cinema ar­ti­cle by the Strictly Film School guy.
Movie Martyr re­view with stills.
Official site of Stanislaw Lem.
• Exhaustive site about the film and the book.
Roger Ebert Review.
• YouTube Clips: 1, 2, 34.

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